If you have been following me for any time you know that I absolutely love my indoor hydroponic garden. So instead of rambling in Facebook groups I am going to start putting useful information here in a blog post so that it is easier to find, and it will help more people. No, this will not stop me from rambling in Facebook groups. LOL! Anyway, here’s a few AeroGarden tomato tips to keep in mind when planning your indoor garden! This is a long post, but I want to get it all in one. 🙂
You may be wondering just how to grow healthy tomatoes in in your AeroGardens. There will be those that tell you that it does not work. And they are just plain wrong. You just have to plan, choose the right plants, and follow a few tips.
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Buy Microdwarf Tomatoes
The best variety of tomatoes to grow in your smaller AeroGarden unit is microdwarf tomatoes. These are determinate and usually stay 12″ tall or less. This means you can grow them comfortably in a Harvest model with very little pruning. A “regular” sized tomato that you would plant out in your garden is not going to work well in any AeroGarden. You will spend all of your time pruning which will lessen the amount of fruit that you get. And you will have to add additional lighting if the plant gets too big. Also, once it starts fruiting the plant will drink water at an alarming rate. Those small tanks do not hold enough water. So, just start with the right size. 🙂
The largest selection of microdwarf tomatoes that we have seen in one place is at Renaissance Farms. They have dozens of varieties to choose from. Some other sites may have patio or container varieties. These may work well too, but you still want to check the size. I am currently growing several varieties of microdwarf tomatoes. It is so awesome to have fresh tomatoes through the winter!
Of course you can also buy the AeroGarden pods direct from them. They offer a few different varieties made to work in their systems. I am growing AeroGarden Heirloom Cherry tomatoes and I love them! They stay nice and compact and they are tasty.
Know the Difference in Tomato Sizes
When it comes to tomato sizes for your AeroGardens, there are 2 that you will want to consider for growing inside. Microdwarf plants are small… 5-12″ or so. Dwarf plants can be 3-5′! The two terms are not interchangeable. Big difference. LOL!
I grow microdwarf tomatoes in my smaller units. And I can grow dwarf tomatoes in my AeroGarden Farm 24XL since that light goes up to 36″.
Don’t Be Fooled by Tomato Size
Don’t let the size of the tomato FRUITS fool you. It is the size of the PLANT that you need to pay attention to. Cherry tomato does not mean small plant. Some cherry tomato plants are 6′ – 10′ tall and indeterminate! Most listings will tell if you the plant is determinate or indeterminate, and it may tell you the height of the plant or length of the vines. If not, use Google! Search “xyz tomato plant size”. Again, if you have small AeroGardens choose microdwarf!
Don’t Plant Too Many Pods
One of the most important things to remember when planting tomatoes in AeroGardens is not to plant too many. Trust me… we were all new at one point. AeroGarden recommends planting only 1 fruiting plant every 3 holes. So, When you purchase actual AeroGarden branded pods (all pods, not just tomatoes), it will come with 3, 6 or 9 pods depending on what you buy. DO NOT PLANT THEM ALL AT THE SAME TIME. Why? Well, think of the size of a tomato plant. They do not just grow straight up. They need room to spread out. Seeds and Pods can last a long time if stored properly. You can use them later.
Do Separate aka Thin the Seedlings
Continuing on the theme of #3… AeroGarden always puts 3-4 seeds in each pod to guarantee germination. When it comes to tomatoes and peppers you are supposed to thin the extra plants. I take this opportunity to move the extra plants to Kratky. My very first time I did not know better, so I planted 6 AeroGarden Heirloom Tomato pods in my Harvest Elite. Since there were 3-4 in each pod, I had at least 20 tomato plants! I moved some to Kratky and planted some in small soil pots and gave them away. That was a lot! So, if you are daring and want to try to move them, plant only 1 or 2 pods and you will still have plenty! Not up for Kratky yet? You can easily put extra seedlings in an empty AeroGarden pod if you have another unit. You can even put it in soil and move it outside.
Know the Flexibility & Limitations of the Systems
Some people will say “but why can’t I plant all the holes? This is misleading!” Well, the units are made that way to give you options. If you plant something small, or something that grows straight up like romaine lettuce, arugula, or herbs, you can plant all 9 holes. However, if you plant tomatoes, where on earth would they spread out to? You need to leave them space to grow not only up, but out. And, more plants does not necessarily mean more tomatoes. If they do not have room to grow, you will get less tomatoes because they are crowded and fighting each other for nutrients. Same applies if planting out in a garden bed. Plants need space and air flow.
Imagine that you have twins (of course that is where my mind goes). Think of your AeroGarden as baby crib. While your twins are small, you can put them together in one bassinet to keep an eye on them. But, eventually those twins will grow. Every night after they sleep, you notice they are bigger and bigger until eventually they both need to be moved to their own cribs. And eventually, they will both be so big that they need to be moved to twin beds. This is how the tomato plants will grow.
So, do yourself a favor… start with the right type and # of plants for your unit, so you do not have to chop your babies.
Do Not Go Snip Happy
If you Google “how to prune tomatoes” you will most likely see advice on outdoor tomatoes. This might make you think you should be chopping away at the tomatoes in your AeroGarden. There is a huge difference… Farmers and outdoor gardeners are growing large indeterminate tomatoes that grow up to 10 feet tall. They have a lot to manage. They pinch off suckers to keep the plants in check so they can get around them and manage them and not have long vines everywhere. And this increases air flow. And some like to make their gardens look neat by pruning to one main stem. Do not follow these same principles for your small determinate tomatoes.
Inside, in our AeroGardens, we should be growing small microdwarf or dwarf determinate tomatoes (depending on your unit size). You do not want to pinch off those suckers. You are causing your plants to produce less fruits by doing this. Pruning off too much can set the plants back.
Do Prune When Needed
You may have to prune eventually. Although the plants should be pretty compact, every now and then a rouge branch may grow off to the side or up the back. You can remove those if needed. And it’s very normal for bottom stems on tomato plants to yellow and die off. These can be pruned off. Once you have harvested all tomatoes off of a branch it can be removed if you like. And if you find that your tomatoes are hitting the light, you can snip a couple of inches off the top.
Watch for Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies
I noticed that if I just use the amount of nutrients that AeroGarden recommends and feed only every 2 weeks, the PPM is usually way too low. Also, for some heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers and larger plants that drink up the solution in the tank quickly, the PPM will drop. They will be starved for nutrients between feedings if you are refilling with plain water. I noticed my tomato leaves yellowing and showing signs of deficiency. If you have plants like this you might want to adjust your feeding schedule to feed half of the amount every week instead of waiting a full two weeks to feed. Or you might opt to do what many of us do for Kratky and premix a gallon of nutrients and just use that to fill your tank when it’s time to top off.
Don’t Forget to Pollinate!
Tomatoes are self-pollinating. This means that they have flowers that contain both the male and female parts. You do not have to do anything fancy for pollination. And you do not need more than one plant for pollination to occur. The pollen falls within the flower to pollinate itself. Outside, if insects don’t do it, pollination is accomplished just by the breeze of the wind. Inside, we have to help it along a bit. This is easily accomplished by shaking the plant a couple of times a day once flowers start to open, using the back of an electric toothbrush to gently vibrate the back of the flowers, or even just pointing a fan at the plant for several hours a day.
For more trips and tricks on using AeroGardens, please check out my video on these tomato tips and subscribe!
I hope these AeroGarden tomato tips help you grow fabulous tomatoes. Happy planting!